The first surprise came before I had even left Gilgit.
An overnight arrival at the Madina informed me that the road to Karimabad was closed due to a strike by locals about 50km up the road. They were involved in a sit-in protest and were completely blocking the KKH. No traffic was able to get through.
Packed and ready to go at 11am, I was advised to wait a couple of hours to see if the situation would be resolved. I sat in the Madina twiddling my thumbs for two hours awaiting news of any developments. Come 1pm I was not prepared to wait any longer as the daylight hours for travelling were slowly slipping away and I had been advised that it would take “about 2-3 hours”. I had that estimate too many times in the past to believe it.
I decided to chance my luck and left. Refuelling on the way out of town, I took the scenic route up the Naltar Valley and then over the Hunza River back onto the KKH proper. The road was a joy to ride – smooth, flowing bitumen with beautiful scenery and little traffic. After about 50km, I arrived at the inevitable police checkpoint and was pleasantly surprised when, after the obligatory “Entry” in another dog-eared logbook and photo opportunity, I was wished well and sent on my way. Maybe it was my lucky day!
No. It wasn’t.
Just around the corner, about 500m away, was a full-scale police roadblock consisting of some 20-30 officers preventing traffic from even getting close to the unhappy locals occupying a measly 50m stretch of the KKH. So we all waited. And waited. And waited. Then it rained. And we waited while we got wet.
All this time, there was much to-ing and fro-ing between senior police officers and some men in civilian clothes. Finally, after almost an hour, the senior officer told me to follow a particular young man who would show me a way around the demonstration. The path was barely wide enough for my bike but, with a bit of help from some not-unhappy locals, I was able to squeeze through and around the back of the sit-in protestors.
Finally I was free to continue the last part of the day’s journey. A few kilometres after the roadblock, I stopped at the well-known Rakaposhi View Café. The garden here gives the first glimpse of Rakaposhi (7790m) – just one of the many peaks over 7000m in the Karakoram Range. After another warm, flat Pepsi it was onwards to Karimabad.
It was about this time that the good road stopped and the bad road started. As in previous days, the road had disintegrated into a confused mess of landslide rubble, left over bits of 40-year-old bitumen and new roadworks along with the addition of a new, unexpected hazard in the form of large drifts of coarse sand. All of this combined to ensure that the remaining 50-60km of the trip to Karimabad took well over 2 hours.
So, just after 6pm I was at the Old Hunza Inn – the hotel/guesthouse recommended by the guys at the Madina. After a day of frustrating delays both before and during the day’s trip, I was looking forward to a nice, long, hot shower.
That’s when the power went off.